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Jo Firestone’s ‘Good Timing’ Offers a Delightful Change to the Standup Conversation

A New York comedian and a group of senior citizens prove that comedy comes a lot easier from community than any artificial divide.

GOOD TIMING WITH JO FIRESTONE -- "Pilot" Episode 101 -- Pictured: (l-r) Tequila Minsky, Jo Firestone, Bibi Elvers, Helen Yalof -- (Photo by: Photographer/NBC)

“Good Timing with Jo Firestone”

Heidi Gutman/Peacock

[This post originally appeared as part of Recommendation Machine, IndieWire’s daily TV picks feature.]

Where to Watch ‘Good Timing with Jo Firestone: Peacock

Comedy often works better as a magic trick. A performer arrives with a set of distinct flourishes, carefully perfected to catch their audience by surprise. Puncture that illusion and you better have something just as good ready to take its place.

Fortunately, “Good Timing with Jo Firestone” does. It’s a documentary special that gets at what gets people laughing, all through the eyes of a group of senior citizens who are part of an online comedy class. Firestone — a comedian and host of multiple podcasts and New York live events — taught the class via Zoom through the pandemic. Earlier this June, the class convened in person to prepare for their first collective standup showcase.

Combining footage from inside their small community’s four-day intensive (of sorts) with one-on-one interviews between Firestone and each participant, “Good Timing” manages to get two versions of this group’s spontaneous charms. There’s roughly 16 of them on any given day, most with fundamentally different approaches to more than just their impending sets. Some loudly proclaim their ages down to the half-year, while others take a more roundabout approach to that particular detail. (In an early hint of what’s to come, one of them responds, “Generally speaking, 100.”)

Maybe most importantly, “Good Timing” makes good on its title. At a 50-minute clip that never feels overstuffed or overlong, director Julie Miller takes the audience through those in-person sessions, marked by Firestone’s prompts. Sometimes she asks the group to draw comedic inspiration from the repetitions in their daily life or the very nature of funny-sounding words. Each performer gets their own slice of time to shine (and shock) in these semicircle meet-ups, whether they offer something incredibly profound or dirty or revolutionary. There’s room for so many small moments in between, so that none of these participants have to be defined by a single joke or observation. It also clips along so well that “Good Timing” can give glimpses into a beginner’s pace without being controlled by it.

Only, most of these participants aren’t really beginners — in a good way! Some have dabbled in acting and comedy before, while others clearly have a talent for storytelling that just hasn’t been put toward this specific purpose yet. “Good Timing” culminates with a rowdy afternoon performance as the collection of folks who’ve been sharing their past histories and current preoccupations each get their time on stage.

In the wake of the past few weeks, amidst conversations around intent, impact, and the purpose of comedy, “Good Timing” is a consideration of the basics. It wasn’t made as a refutation to the way standup has been weaponized against particular groups or used as leverage in a public score-settling campaign. But watching this room filled with centuries’ worth of life experience as everyone comes up with new names for dog poop, you’re quickly reminded that comedy doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. You can build fundamental comedy out of gripes that don’t come at the expense of another person’s humanity.

Just because they’re in a class doesn’t mean there isn’t any rule-breaking. Arguably, the funniest or most touching moments in “Good Timing” come when someone veers off the assignment and really pours themselves into what could easily be tossed-off. (There’s probably room for an extended cut that’s just Firestone’s gobsmacked reactions to what the group comes up with in those stretches.) And there’s a certain form of resiliency that plays out in that final string of sets, proving that comedy and storytelling don’t belong in a predetermined box. Now, the only thing left is to see if Peacock will greenlight a series that goes back regularly to see what everyone manages to come up with next.

Pair It With: In addition to the aforementioned work and projects, Firestone makes regular appearances on the equally fulfilling “Joe Pera Talks with You.” She also worked on the writing staff for the dearly departed “The Chris Gethard Show,” whose finale had a five-minute parade of exquisite controlled comedy chaos that has yet to be topped in the three years since.

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